In Defense of "Garbage" Entertainment

Kim Hopkin '19
Development Editor

I have to admit that I often feel self-conscious about the forms of entertainment that I consume. I want to be the person who gets true fulfillment from only listening to NPR, only reading The Economist, and only binge-watching Ken Burns documentaries. In fact, I’ve forced myself to try new podcasts, documentaries, and subscriptions to make it as easy as possible for me to be that person. And occasionally, I do like to spend some of my time with This American Life or getting some niche knowledge via Ken Burns on Prohibition or the Roosevelts. But, while these sources do enrich my life, I don’t always want to stay away from “garbage” TV.

I had a college humanities professor who told me that classical music was objectively better than any other type of music. She lectured us by telling us that understanding classical music and preferring to listen to that over contemporary music made you a better and more intelligent person. Having listened to it, I can say it’s not bad music. The people who listen aren’t inherently boring people. But I’m also not stupid for preferring music with lyrics. That’s just how I engage the most with songs I hear. It’s also how I rank songs and musicians that I like. I find Walker Hayes, Sam Hunt, and Devin Dawson’s lyrics interesting and easy to sing along to. People seem to understand and buy into this reasoning.

However, when I tell people that I sometimes tune into Keeping up with the Kardashians or that I love Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I feel like I’m admitting to a dirty secret. “Not even Andy Samberg thinks Nine-Nine should be nominated for an Emmy,” someone once told me. But why do I have to limit myself to smart or award-winning entertainment? Does that make it actually better?  It’s entertainment.

I feel like there are times when I want to turn on the television and think about the issues that are brought up in the episode. Maybe I want to see things from another perspective or I want to learn about a new topic. But sometimes, I want to just laugh or spend some time actively not thinking that hard. Say what you want about the inherent evil in reality television: The Bachelor is sexist; the Kardashians are talentless. Trust me, I have those thoughts occasionally, too. However, after a long day already thinking about criminal justice policy, or researching for a ten-page paper, or re-reading the Federal Rules of Evidence, I just want to wind down for bed.

That’s why it doesn’t matter that I could be spending my limited amount of time watching Westworld or reading biographies of Supreme Court Justices. I understand that having a working knowledge about different subjects is important to being a well-rounded human, and I do try to learn things outside the classroom. But I’m tired of feeling like I can’t enjoy some mindless entertainment for an hour a day. And if you also feel guilty about not having an encyclopedic understanding of mid-century European politics, I implore you to join me.

Let’s stop criticizing people who don’t have the stamina to watch an Aaron Sorkin show from beginning to end. If someone doesn’t like The Crown, then they shouldn’t have to cling to gender pay inequality to have a worthwhile reason. Let’s watch a little Bravo.